Amy Scott Galey had served on Alamance County’s board of commissioners for less than a year when she had a rude awakening during her first budget vote in the spring of 2017.
Like most county budgets, that year’s spending plan hinged on the issue of public education – and in particular, the county’s contribution to the Alamance-Burlington School System, which had been angling for a 20-percent increase in its annual stipend from the commissioners.
Although a majority of the commissioners signed off on an 8-percent hike in the allotment, the gesture did little to conciliate the audience at Williams High School, where Galey and her colleagues had convened their budget discussion in anticipation of a capacity crowd.
In fact, Galey still hasn’t forgotten the chorus of heckles and boos that she personally received when she tried to justify the majority’s decision to the school system’s boosters that evening.
“I got a lot of negative feedback because I didn’t go along with the request,” she recalled of the experience in an interview earlier this month. “That was a very difficult experience. But in retrospect, I’m glad that it happened because it made me a lot tougher.”
Galey’s newfound strength would see her through a lot more adversity over the next three and a half years. For much of that time, Galey served as the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners – a role that made her a natural target for critics of the county’s governing board. Yet, she weathered the antagonism sufficiently well to win reelection at the end of her abbreviated two-year term, which had been on offer in 2016 due to the early departure of another county commissioner.
“I think a good chair approaches the job as being one of five equal partners, and it’s not the chair’s job to get people to agree. The gentlemen I served with had many more years of experience than I did in serving the county, and if they had something to say, it was worth listening to.”
– county commissioner amy scott Galey
Galey’s hardiness and resolve would continue to be tested when she decided to make a bid for the state senate barely a year into her second term on the board of commissioners. The 53-year-old lawyer and mother of three opted to seek this state-level office after fellow Republican Rick Gunn announced he’d retire from North Carolina’s state senate, where he had represented the state’s 24th senate district, which currently comprises Alamance County and the eastern reaches of Guilford.
Galey went on to face a grueling, year-long contest against Democrat J.D. Wooten, a high-profile patent lawyer who had unsuccessfully challenged Gunn for his seat in 2018. In the end, the Republican hopeful prevailed in this matchup and is now poised to join North Carolina’s General Assembly when the new legislature is formally sworn in on Friday.
Although Gunn had comfortably defeated Wooten in the fall of 2018, Galey knew that she’d have her work cut out for her in her own inaugural campaign for the state senate. An attorney by trade, Galey was well acquainted with Wooten’s reputation as a top-notch litigator with the internationally-renowned law firm of Womble, Bond, Dickinson. Nor was she unaware of her competitor’s credentials as an Air Force veteran, which neutralized Galey’s own claim to military experience as the wife of a retired fighter pilot.
Galey nevertheless managed to turn both of these advantages against her opponent. Her campaign ultimately nailed Wooten over his legal work on behalf of large drug companies. Galey and her allies also hammered the Democratic contender for his alleged misuse of a loan from the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs, which he used to purchase a home in Greensboro that he sold eight months later after pledging to make it his primary residence for no less than a year.
In his own defense, Wooten insisted that he had genuinely planned to inhabit this dwelling long-term, but ultimately vacated it in order to make another go at the state senate seat in the 24th district. In the meantime, the Democratic contender didn’t pull any of his own punches with Galey, whom he repeatedly faulted for not adequately funding public education in her role as a county commissioner.
“If the person won’t fight as a candidate, you can’t expect them to fight as a representative. a campaign is like a very long and difficult job interview. I think it’s reasonable to see how a person fights for themselves in the context of the campaign…and I was willing to fight for the opportunity to represent the people of this district.”
– incoming state senator Amy scott galey
Yet, it was Galey who nevertheless managed to get under the skin of her rival through her use of political jujitsu. Wooten all but conceded the point when he sued his opponent’s campaign roughly a month and a half before the election over the allegedly defamatory attacks on his character. Galey, for her part, has made no apologies for her tough-as-nails tack to the race even if she happened to bruise her competitor’s feelings.
“If the person won’t fight as a candidate, you can’t expect them to fight as a representative,” she went on to explain. “A campaign is like a very long and difficult job interview. I think it’s reasonable to see how a person fights for themselves in the context of the campaign…and I was willing to fight for the opportunity to represent the people of this district.”
In addition to showing her mettle on the campaign trail, Galey has also been forced to fend off one challenge after another in her day job as a member of Alamance County’s board of commissioners.
Although things have recently been cordial in their relations with the school system, Galey and her fellow commissioners have faced a great deal of public hostility over issues ranging from law enforcement reform to land use regulation.
Over the past couple of years, the commissioners have come under particularly intense criticism for their failure to prevent a stone quarry from getting the county planning department’s approval to set up in the rural, unincorporated community of Snow Camp. They have also endured repeated shellackings over their reluctance to remove a Confederate monument from the grounds of the county’s historic courthouse as well as the county’s heavy-handed response to the protests this monument has generated. To make matters worse, the county’s leaders have had to contend with the after effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including a potential decline in tax revenues that they only averted thanks to an unexpectedly robust retail economy.
In the midst of these copious challenges, Galey has tried not to lose sight of the things that the commissioners have been able to accomplish with her at the helm. The board’s chairman has been especially proud of the county’s advances in land use, which have included revised rules for heavy industrial development, a new ordinance for solar energy farms, and a newly-adopted land use plan that could pave the way for additional restrictions in the vicinity of Snow Camp. In the meantime, however, Galey has been careful not to claim too much of the credit for the board’s achievements during her tenure as chairman.
“I think a good chair approaches the job as being one of five equal partners, and it’s not the chair’s job to get people to agree,” she insisted. “The gentlemen I served with had many more years of experience than I did in serving the county, and if they had something to say, it was worth listening to.”
Galey’s graciousness as a commissioner has ultimately been the ideal complement to the esprit de combat that she has demonstrated in her campaign for the state senate. Either way, the local electorate has responded well to both facets of her public personality – as revealed by the final results of this fall’s general election. In the end, Galey won 61,292 of the 116,901 votes cast in the 24th district senate race – securing her victory by a margin of about 52.4 percent to Wooten’s 47.6 percent of the local electorate.
Since her win at the polls in November, Galey has gradually wound down her work as a county commissioner in preparation for her new role as a member of North Carolina’s state senate. Although the incoming state legislator wouldn’t divulge the committee appointments that she has sought from her party’s leadership in the senate, she acknowledged her interest in mental health reforms that may prevent gun violence without serious injury to the Second Amendment. Galey also expressed her desire to ensure that the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t curtail the educational achievement of school children across North Carolina.
In either case, the legislator-elect is emphatic that her mission as a state senator won’t be much different from her constituent-centered work as a member of the county’s board of commissioners.
“I thank the people for trusting me with this commission [as a state senator],” she added, “and I promise to work hard for them and represent them well.”